There are certain sounds in life that are loud, clear, close to your ears, yet no one else appears to hear them besides yourself. Emanating from the heart, they resound within one’s own personal universe sounding even louder if not allowed to escape from the gateway of the lips.
The sound of a heart breaking, really breaking, splintering into a million pieces, is perhaps the loudest of them all. Her eyes flickering with shock, pain and confusion, she just stood and stared for a few moments. Then she blinked and heard herself saying, “That’s such a pretty name”.
She was surprised how normal her voice sounded as she added after a pause, “Astha Aunty, I think I’ll go to bed now. I can hardly keep my eyes open, I’m so sleepy”. She was even able to work her frozen features into a smile.
Opening the door to her room, she stepped inside, and shut and bolted it. Standing with her back pressed against it,she stared unseeingly at the fluttering window curtains, the rustling silver-black leaves of the Chinar tree and a half moon that it partially concealed.
In fact, the faint rusting of the leaves was the only sound her frozen senses registered. She felt nothing else at first. Nothing else at all. With her nails digging into palms, she stood encompassed in the darkness of her frozen, inner universe, losing all orientation of time, place and even person. After what seemed like eons, she heard a soft, hesitant knocking on her door.
“Khushi?, his voice wafted to her, “Please give me a chance to explain…”.
Slowly, she shook her head and even as she unclenched her fists and felt a sharp sting of pain in the soft palms, her legs felt lifeless. Soundlessly, she sank to the floor.
“Fool”, she silently screamed, “You fool”, unable to collect her thoughts, that were all over the place, into a single coherent sentence. She didn’t even realize she was crying – silently, incessantly, angry tears rolling off of her chin and making a large, damp patch on her silk scarf.
She was angry at the divine brush that had colored her world with shades she had never dared imagining before. She was angry at her own self, her prudence, her wisdom, her judgement, all prized characteristics, for allowing her to take this completely unwarranted leap of faith, for allowing her to abandon the domain of the safe and the sensible to dive into unknown, untested waters.
She cursed her heart for succumbing to it’s emotions, it’s desires, and for falling in love with someone, who was little more than a stranger.
“Shallow”, she called her heart, cursing it for not being able to recognize the worth of a person like Aman.
Why wasn’t she able to feel for Aman what she felt for Arnav, she thought. Why was this emotion so elusive? Why did this emotion keep slipping away when her heart had tried hard to grasp it for Aman?
That same emotion that had sneaked into her heart when she’d least expected it, insidiously growing roots, and becoming an indispensable, inseparable part of her heart. Her soul. Of who she was.
Inspite of the maelstrom raging inside her, a voice in her heart asked with wonder and fascination, “So this is what love is?
“Was”, she replied to that gratingly naive voice, mentally pulverizing it.
She didn’t notice when the soft knocking at the door ceased, followed by dejected, retreating footfalls. It was quite late in the night when she finally got up, her legs stiff, her body aching, her face blotched with crying.
Walking over to the bathroom, she turned the faucet on. She Slsplashed water on her face repetitively, it’s coolness comforting to her burning skin. Grabbing a towel from it’s holder, she wiped her face and stared at it.
She watched as steel slowly entered her eyes. Lifting her chin up slightly, she spoke to her reflection, “I will survive”.
Closing her eyes, she summoned courage, and images that inspired and augmented it. Her Devi Ma, the steadfast mountains, the clinic on wheels with it’s orange MSF logo, the mountain villages, the flower meadows, the excitement of children, her patients who touched her everyday by their ability to endure unimaginable adversity, pain, loss and poverty. Her problem was so small and insignificant before it all.
“Yes, I’ll be okay”
It was easier said than done. Lying on her back, she stared at the swaying shadows of branches on the wall in front of her. And suddenly, without warning, all carefully erected defenses, all rationalizations, all knowledge of strategies for managing personal crises – they all crumbled into nothingness. With her fingers clutching at the bed sheets, she felt too weak to fight.
“Why, Arnav?, she cried, her tears soaking her pillow.
Arnav got out of bed and put a dressing gown on. He decided to go down to the library again. It was futile to even expect sleep.
His footsteps slowed instinctively outside Khushi’s door. He paused for a moment, his body taut, his ears straining to hear sounds but meeting silence. His head ached. His eyes burnt.
Sitting on a chair by the window with a nearly empty glass in hand, his restless mind was partially lulled by alcohol. His mother’s words from an earlier conversation came to him.
“Is there something going on between the two of you? I hope not because you should not forget that you are still married”.
“Separated…almost divorced”, Arnav had quietly corrected her.
“Still married”, Astha had reiterated, “The fact that you and Lavanya have been living separately for almost a year now doesn’t make any difference. To me or to the society. Especially because Lavanya herself doesn’t want a divorce and seeks reconciliation”.
“Which is out of question”, Arnav said grimly.
“That does not matter”, Astha had said acidly, “As much as the fact that on paper you and Lavanya are still Mr. and Mrs. Raizada. And you still haven’t answered my question about you and Khushi”.
With a wave of irritation washing over him, he said haughtily, “That is our personal business”.
Astha had parted her lips angrily to say something but then thought better of it.
As Arnav had turned to go upstairs, she had added in a voice thick with emotion, “Khushi is under my care here. I don’t want her to get hurt any more than she already is”.
With his back stiffening, he had turned toward her again. His eyes glittered dangerously as he said, “So you think you need to protect Khushi from me, your own son. Thanks for that vote of confidence, Ma”.
“That was not what I meant”, she had begun…her words hitting his retreating back as he left the room.
With his head pounding, he finished the rest of the drink in a single swig. Rested his glass on a nearby table, he rose and walk up to the desk. Settling in the tan leather chair, he turned the desktop on, impatiently waiting for the screen to flicker into life.
Going to his inbox, he skimmed through the senders’ list until his eyes zeroed in on what he looked for. Taflinski and Bernstein Legal Services PLLC.
Date:Tue, September 25, 2013 at 1:29 PM
Subject:Raizada Vs. Raizada
To:Arnav S. Raizada<Arnav1980@CClinic.com>
I reviewed your case yesterday with my partner, Sam Taflinsky and let me first begin by summarizing what we’ve gathered so far. Earlier this year, on January the 28th, 2013, you had filed a petition requesting a legal separation from your wife, Lavanya Raizada, in the domestic relations division of the common pleas court, Cleveland, Ohio.
Last week, we received your email, which instructed us to go ahead with initiating the process for filing a petition for divorce in the local common pleas court and serving, defendant, Lavanya Raizada, with a legal notice for the same.
For your information, we’ve prepared all the necessary paperwork necessary for filing a petition for divorce and mailed them to the address you provided for your signatures.
Once we get those back, our next step would be serving defendant, Lavanya Raizada, with a divorce notice.
Feel free to contact us via cell phone or email, if you have any questions.
Taflinski and Bernstein Legal Services PLLC.
1503, Lincoln Avenue, Suite 209
The next email was from Lavanya. It was cryptic and absolutely to the point.
From: Lavanya Raizada<LaKash11@hotmail.com>
Date: Tue, Septemper 25, 2013 at 11:36 AM
Subject: Re: Divorce process initiated.
To: Arnav S. Raizada<Arnav1980@hotmail.com>
Thanks for letting me know in advance, how very thoughtful of you. We need to talk first.
With pure weariness blunting the edge of his rising anger, he logged off and rose to walk over to the window. As he watched apink, orange and burgundy streaks spread across the horizon, his overwrought mind clutched to memories like straws. Her voice. Her touch. Her scent. Her.
He didn’t feel any guilt. As far as he was concerned, he’d already given himself away to her.
Next morning, Astha sat alone at the dining table, her shoulders slumped, her eyes oblivious to a beautiful day peeking from the window. Her breakfast remained untouched in front of her.
The door opened with a click and she looked up with expectantly. It was Om Prakash, who had been sent upstairs to call Arnav and Khushi for breakfast.
“Arnav Bhaiya is still sleeping”, he said.
“She said she’ll down in five minutes. Should I bring in tea now?
Nodding, Astha picked up the morning’s paper, placed beside her plate. She was skimming through the headlines when the door opened again and Khushi entered.
She hesitated for a second at the doorway and their eyes met. They both felt a new awkwardness in the space surrounding them.
“Good Morning, Aunty”, she said with a tiny smile, pulling a chair out.
Studying Khushi’s peaked face and eyes full of shadows and steel, the tenderness she felt for her became tinged with respect.
As she buttered a toast, Astha said, “I can already see some color on trees. I think we might be having an early fall this year”.
“Yes, I noticed too”, replied Khushi, grateful for the immunity of small talk, “The chinar tree outside my window is already showing signs of the fall extravaganza it’s famous for”.
They stuck to the mundane, deliberately avoiding the elephant in the room. For all outward appearances, it seemed that their personal equation remained unscathed but both were conscious and regretful of an invisible distance between them.
Astha took Khushi out after breakfast, just like before. They strolled through the tranquil environs of Nishat Gardens and had lunch at a famous houseboat restaurant. Despite it all, they felt a much needed lightness creep into their hearts.
It was dark when they returned home and as Astha pressed the doorbell, Khushi felt her heart race with anticipation. Her tensed body relaxed when Om Prakash opened the door. They stepped inside the hall discussing a famous landmark they’d passed on their way back.
“It serves as the official summer residence of the governor. And when other dignitaries visit the state, that’s where they stay”, said Astha.
“It was beautiful”, smiled Khushi as she crossed the foyer to head upstairs. Astha went to check on dinner preparations in the kitchen.
With a hand absentmindedly caressing the polished walnut rail of the staircase, she was halfway up when, without warning, she came face to face with Arnav. Averting her eyes, she passed him without a word. She had taken just one step when she heard him call her name.
With her back turned toward him, she halted for a split second, her heart picking up pace, her fingernails impaled into her palms.
“Khushi, can you please give me a chance to explain?, she heard him say, his voice growing fainter and fainter as she slowly walked away from him.
When Khushi left after breakfast the next day, Astha didn’t attempt to stop her like she would have normally done. The stress of keeping up appearances, the pretense of not noticing the tension, the house crackled with, was beginning to take a toll on her. Astha hoped for everyone’s sake that time and space would ultimately act as healers.
Next weekend, Khushi called to express her regret that it would not be possible for her to visit them. She used a medical conference as an excuse. Astha missed her more than she could have ever imagined but she didn’t attempt to change her mind.
It was Sunday night and Khushi sat on her bed in her nightclothes, her Macbook Air open in front of her, her mind focused on updating the MSF field doctors’ blog. When her phone rang, she turned it off without a glance.
The screen showed 26 missed calls since last Monday. With her face frozen and her eyes anguished, she continued typing.
Over the past seven years, a Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontires (MSF) team has run mobile clinics to deliver medical and humanitarian aid to remote villages in the mountains surrounding Pampore, Kashmir. The team includes a doctor(yours truly), two nurses, a psychologist, a translator, and two local health workers. On an average day, we treat up to 150 patients, doing minor procedures on the field itself, while referring complicated cases to MSF’s main hospital in Pampore...
Pausing to tie her thoughts together, she jumped when the doorbell’s shrill sound resonated through her tiny apartment. She glanced up at a wall clock. It was 12:30AM.
Getting off of the bed, she shoved her feet into slippers and walked up to the front door. Without asking who it was or peeping through the eyehole to see, she knew.
“Have you any idea what time it is?, she asked across the door without opening it, her eyes shining with hazel fire and water.
“I have to talk to you”, he said tersely.
“There is nothing left to talk about”. Her voice sounded cold and unnaturally calm from across the apartment door.
“I won’t take long, Khushi, I promise”, he tried again, resting his aching head against the wooden door for a while.
“You’re wasting your time. And mine too”.
“For God’s sake, Khushi, open the door. I said I won’t take long”, he said again.
A tautness in his jaw, a vein pulsating visibly on his high forehead, a two day old stubble, puffy bloodshot eyes provided the unmistakeable picture of a man fast approaching his tether’s end. His breaking point.
“Just leave, Arnav”.
“Just open, dammit”, he raised his voice, slamming a palm on the door in anger.
Khushi felt blood rush to her head. With her face flushed and her eyes shooting fire, she opened the door, waited for him to step inside and slammed it shut again.
Incoherent with anger, she turned to him, “What is wrong with you? Creating a scene in front of my door. How dare you? And why is it so important to talk right now. Literally in the middle of the night….What…”.
“Because I can’t go on like this anymore”, he cut her in mid sentence.